On Honesty in Friendship

Lately I’ve been trying to distinguish between honesty, forthrightness, and level-speaking as it relates to the clinical situation and, to some degree, to the relation between friends. To be sure, I am not attempting to contribute to any discussions that are currently happening within anarchist political philosophy (which are often grounded on an ethics of friendship at the tactical, rather than strategic, level of political practice). Moreover, I am not intending to construct an ethics in the normative sense. My approach is much more descriptive than normative.  At least – to be more accurate – I am not intending to promote friendship as a tactical arena of political opposition. This, as some of you know, has been central to recent developments in anarchist and post-anarchist political philosophy (most notably, it appears in the work of Todd May). An ethics of friendship more often assumes the model of friendship as we commonly understand it as the foundation for a collective politics: if we are all good to one another, caring, supportive, etc, then we will have good political practice. To sum this approach up in a word, friendship is a practice of caring, it is a practice of love. But what interests me is the role that honesty, forthrightness, and level-speaking have within the relationship that occurs between a hysteric and an analyst, a man and a woman, a noble friend and a critical free-wheeling friend, and so on.

I define forthrightness as the ability to be direct and outspoken. Within the clinical situation, forthrightness involves full speech. Full speech can only happen between an analyst and a hysterical subject, and not between, for example, an analyst and an obsessional neurotic. This is because the obsessional neurotic tends to rehearse his talking points before the session and, for that reason, he does not open up the possibility for something like the parapraxes to occur. Moreover, the obsessional neurotic does not allow or anticipate the analyst’s punctuations or scansions. For this reason, the obsessional neurotic must be hystericized. In any case, the obsessional, and consequently the hysteric, moves from empty speech toward full speech when the speech no longer resists the penetrating insistence of the analyst’s interventions. Thus, Lacan wrote that: “Full speech is speech which aims at, which forms, the truth such as it becomes established in the recognition of one person by other.” In other words, full speech occurs when the hysteric recognizes and feels recognized by the analyst. This is different than friendship as love because it begins with the unconscious recognition that the analysand or friend has toward his Other and not with the imaginary relationship that conceals it (i.e., friendship as love).

Honesty, for me, is an act. Recall that for Lacan an act is that which accepts the unconscious dimension of one’s intentions. One is honest when one accepts responsibility for the recognition disclosed in the forthrightness of one’s own (or one’s friend’s) speech. Remember that full speech discloses recognition sometimes through silences, through an inability to state something, through stammering, and so on. If, for example, the discussion between friends keeps circling around a given topic about a mutual friend, and yet that topic is never directly addressed, then we can consider this to be full speech inasmuch as it reveals the relationship between the two friends. The one friend thus reveals a truth about his relationship to the other friend. The question then becomes: is he or she honest about that relationship? Does the friend act honestly in relation to his desire toward the Other friend?

Finally, the only truly ethical concept that I want to define relates to the concept of level-speaking. One speaks on the level when one can be honest about one’s forthrightness but without making any judgments about the Other’s intentions or character. I believe that all pure friendships are characterized by the first category of thought, forthrightness. Good friendships include the second category of thought, honesty. True friendships can only involve the last category of thought, level-speaking. Forthrightness is the very condition of friendship, honesty is the test of friendship, and level-speaking is the security of friendship.

In this way the clinic is a lot like the cafe: the analysand sits comfortably and lets the analyst know everything that is racing through his or her mind. At the cafe I reveal all my perverse desires to my friends. In the clinic I reveal all my perverse desires to my analyst. Moreover, if one is being honest about this, if the relationship between analyst and analysand, between friends, is a good one, then there is an honest presentation of one’s forthrightness: as M. Guy Thompson puts it, “[there is, within the Freudian clinic,] the (explicit or implicit) promise to conceal nothing from one’s analyst, i.e., the pledge to be honest or candid.” In a true friendship, one can tell the Other the most atrocious secrets and be promised, in return, no judgments.

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One thought on “On Honesty in Friendship

  1. Pingback: On Honesty in Friendship | Research Material

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